Trucking Groups Resist New Mileage Tax Proposal to Fund Highways

The American Trucking Associations may have run its letter opposing a proposed mileage tax on truckers in Wyoming’s Casper Star-Tribune, but the message was aimed squarely at Washington.

Trucking-aligned groups are rallying opposition to a proposal by Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and Finance Committee member John Cornyn (R-Texas) to help pay for a five-year, $287 billion highway bill (S. 2302) by taxing the number of miles driven by commercial truckers.

Trucking groups and the agricultural industry are fighting what the letter by American Trucking Associations President Chris Spear and Sheila Foertsch of the Wyoming Trucking Association called a “discriminatory tax on America’s truckers” that raises the specter of a government “tracking tax” that would monitor a driver’s every move and share the information with the Internal Revenue Service.

“It should come as no surprise to anybody that the Trucking Industry opposes attempts to fund infrastructure only on the backs of truckers and the farmers, families and businesses we serve,” Bill Sullivan, the trucking group’s executive vice president for advocacy, said in an email.

Scott Olson/Getty Images
Semi trucks travel along Interstate 94 on June 21, 2019 near Lake forest, Ill.

Barrasso and Cornyn have floated the new tax as one of three pillars—along with indexing the motor fuels tax and taxing electric vehicles—to pay for highways, roads, and bridges. The approach resembles funding recommendations from the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, which delivered its own letter to lawmakers on Tuesday. Matthew J. Jeanneret, the organization’s executive vice president, said in an interview that his group wants a user fee-based solution and that absent Senate support for a gas tax, a mileage tax on trucking must be part of the mix. Congress should avoid gimmicks that rely on “smoke and mirrors” to patch up the trust fund as past surface bills have done, Jeanneret said.

Supporters say the tax on commercial trucking is fair because the heavy vehicles take a greater toll on roads. The industry notes that the 24.4 cents-per-gallon federal diesel tax they pay already exceeds the 18.4-cents-per-gallon federal gasoline tax that other motorists pay. Truckers also pay additional fees, including an excise tax on tires.

The current surface transportation authorization (Public Law 114-94) expires at the end of fiscal 2020 and its funding stream faces a shortfall in fiscal 2021.

The American Trucking Associations supports increasing the federal motor fuels taxes on all drivers to pay for infrastructure, an idea that congressional Republicans generally oppose.

“What the trucking association wants to is double the gasoline tax on all Americans,” Barrasso said in a Capitol hallway interview.

Building Pressure

The public pressure on Barrasso follows several letters to House and Senate leaders, from the Owner–Operator Independent Drivers Association in January and again on Monday, and on Friday from trucking-aligned farm groups.

The Owner–Operator Independent Drivers Association members take issue with the newly mandated electronic logging devices, used to monitor compliance with hours of service requirements. Piling mileage tracking onto already unpopular technology is untenable for their members, they wrote in January letters to the House and Senate leaders of tax committees.

“Not only will embracing their foolish truck-only” vehicle-mileage tax “squander the vital support of our industry, it will turn us into staunch opponents of the next highway bill,” Todd Spencer, president of the owner-operators’ group, said in the letter Monday

More than 80 state and national farm groups, including the American Farm Bureau Association, the Western Growers, and the Texas Ag Industries Association, signed onto a letter to the top Republican and Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, which is charged with funding the surface transportation bill.

“A truck-only vehicle miles tax would increase truck transportation costs,” cutting the prices paid to farmers and reducing market share for U.S. agriculture,” the farm groups wrote in a letter dated Feb. 21.

Cornyn and Barrasso planned to meet with Finance Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) to discuss the truck tax proposal, among other infrastructure funding items, Cornyn told reporters earlier this month.

Barrasso said he wasn’t surprised by the group’s letter in his home state paper and told Bloomberg Government he plans a letter in response.

To contact the reporter on this story: Shaun Courtney in Washington at scourtney@bgov.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at phendrie@bgov.com

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